Monday, December 22, 2008

Msg: Txtng & Drvng Agnst Law

In 2008, text messaging has become the preferred method of communication for millions of Americans of all ages. Text-messaging, also known as SMS (for short message service), started in Japan, because the cost of texting there was less than that of making cell phone calls. This year, President-elect Obama used the medium to announce his running mate and American Idol fans used texting to vote for their favorite contestants. Generation X has become Generation Text as students use text messages to save time in a wide range of communication from simple chatting to sharing legal citations for scholarly writing. Jennifer Alvey from Word Solutions wrote an interesting post about how text messaging can help lawyers and law students improve their writing skills.

The past year has seen new state laws regulating texting while driving (TWD). Nine states have new laws going into effect that relate specifically to cell phone use and text messaging by the driver of a vehicle. Most new laws are secondary enforcement laws that will not be enforced unless the driver is violating a primary law such as speeding, reckless driving or running a red light. The laws provide exceptions for emergencies, reporting illegal activity and use by public safety officials.

As states like Alaska, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey (whose 2008 amendment makes TWD a primary offense), Oregon, Washington have passed or strengthened laws on TWD, similar legislation in the New York legislature has languished. In May 2008, the NY State Senate passed a bill (S3195-C) introduced by Sen. Carl Marcellino (R, Syosset) to amend the Vehicle and Traffic Law to ban cell phone use while driving prohibiting drivers from writing, sending or reading text messages on a mobile telephone or any other mobile device. A companion bill (A7299-B) introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (D, Brooklyn) awaits action in the Assembly. The New York legislation was given more attention last July, after five high school graduates died in an upstate crash. Police said text messages had been sent and received on the 17-year-old driver's cell phone moments before her SUV rammed a truck.

While legislation awaits passage at the state level, local governments have addressed the issue of TWD. Westchester County, just north of New York City, has just enacted Local Law 12 2008 prohibiting text messaging while driving, making it illegal to compose, read or send text messages while driving any type of motor vehicle, including automobiles, trucks, vans, and construction vehicles. The law goes into effect on March 10, 2009. Schenectady County also enacted a TWD ban last week when its county Legislature approved a local law making it a violation to send text via a cell phone while driving. The violation comes with a $150 fine if convicted and becomes effective on March 1, 2009. Monroe County and Suffolk County have already passed similar bans.

Most bans on TWD have minor fines and are aimed only at younger drivers. Whether these limitations will effect behavior is an open question. It is more likely that violations that carry points and insurance surcharges will alter driver behavior. New technology that limit cell phone use while driving, like the Key2SafeDriving wireless car key device, is a more effective way to stop motorists from talking on their cell phone or sending text messages while driving. Thanks to BeSpacfic for this press release on the device.

Here's a scripted video demonstrating how the device works:


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